RIO DE JANEIRO — Raked over the coals for months now, portrayed as a bumbling, corrupt, polluted cesspool of crime that never should have hosted the Olympic Games, the city of Rio de Janeiro and the nation of Brazil are punching back, hard … at American swimmer Ryan Lochte of all people.
Authorities here do not believe Lochte was mugged at gunpoint Sunday morning, as he has alleged in the media and in an interview with police.
They don’t believe he and three fellow swimmers had their taxi stopped by robbers disguised as police. They don’t believe they had guns drawn on them and they certainly don’t believe an organized criminal crew like that would take their money but not their cell phones and jewelry.
Lochte captured one gold in a swimming relay here but because of past success, his looks and a willing participation in the Hollywood self-promotion machine, he is a big star.
His claims of a wild and dangerous night on the streets of Rio went global. It’s the very headline that government officials dread, scaring off tourists and business investments alike. If four big, strong Olympic athletes aren’t safe riding in a taxi then who is? Your kids? Your employees?
Rio isn’t taking this black eye quietly.
On Wednesday, a local judge issued an order
to seize the passports of Lochte and fellow American swimmer Jimmy Feigen, essentially assuring they couldn’t leave the country. He ordered them to be subjected to more questioning, citing inconsistencies in – and implausibility of – their stories of what happened that night.
Lochte had already left Brazil, though, flying back to the United States before the order was issued. He told NBC on Wednesday that no one told him he couldn’t go and that he had offered full cooperation.
Feigen, however, was still in Brazil after not showing up for his flight. He told USA Today that he would cooperate. The United States Olympic Committee stated that the two other swimmers there that night, Jack Conger
and Gunnar Bentz
, “were removed from their flight to the United States
[Wednesday night] by Brazilian authorities.” A representative of the American consulate here was seen at the airport.
This is a major show of force by the Brazilians, especially for what might be, at most, a falsified police report or perhaps some kind of lying to the police by Lochte and Feigen, one of whom already scurried home and the other was in the process of doing so.
It’s believed neither Conger nor Bentz spoke to police or misled anyone and aren’t facing any potential charges. If so, the Brazilian government just pulled two passengers from an international flight so they could serve as potential supporting witnesses.
That’s how seriously Brazil is taking this.
And that is what has to concern all four of the people involved.
For the sake of argument, assume that the Brazilians are correct, Lochte is lying and there never was a robbery. There are massive holes in the story. The timeline doesn’t match up. The inability of Lochte or the others to identify a taxi driver or a taxi company is suspicious. No driver has come forward to police, his cab company, anyone. Perhaps he was involved. There’s no telling, but the swimmers didn’t call police or USOC officials at the time.
Then there is surveillance video obtained by the Daily Mail out of London of the four men returning to the athlete’s village at 7 a.m. Sunday. This was three hours after one of Lochte’s stories said the incident likely happened. They are wearing jewelry, carrying cell phones and acting casually, not at all like someone who just had a gun pointed at them.
“One sees that the supposed victims arrived with their physical and psychological integrity intact, even playing with each other, showing that there wasn’t any psychological shock inherent to such alleged violence,” a prosecutor said in a statement.
Still, even if Lochte, who has often acted impulsively, made up a story, this would hardly constitute a crime that would require such resources. If anything, it’s proof there is one less armed robbery gang out there. Yes, wasting the time and talents of police is a serious issue, but there are a lot of serious issues here in Rio.
This one has been deemed the most serious, though, because it picked at a beaten-down city and country. It played off the worst assumptions of a place that has been dragged through the mud.
It was four Olympic athletes, Americans no less, after a night of partying, finding a way to continue to sully Brazil’s image, in this case, the Brazilians believe, for no particular reason.
Yeah, Brazil is going to go to the wall to fight that.
The story of Lochte, Feigen and the others may still check out. It’s certainly possible they were mugged. This is still Rio, like most major cities dangerous and unpredictable. The Guardian reported Wednesday night that a member of Britain’s Olympic team was held up at gunpoint
, prompting British track and field officials to warn their athletes that it’s not worth the risk to leave the athletes’ village. Maybe Lochte’s story is a bit embellished but still mostly correct.
Lochte doubled down on the basics of the incident in an off-camera discussion with NBC, which was relayed by Matt Lauer, although a few details were changed.
Why would they all make up the story? There are a million reasons. Why would Lochte almost bask in the attention from it, going to the media with this story? A million of those, too.
To NBC, after all, Lochte boldly claimed that in the face of an armed burglary in progress he refused to lay on the ground as commanded, and when a gun was pressed to “my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up. I was like ‘whatever.’ ”
Now Lochte is telling NBC the gun was just pointed in his direction, not put to his head. Whatever, indeed.
Time will tell whether this story stands or unravels. This much is certain: On Wednesday authorities here believed it was all a hoax, another cruel attempt to make them and the city look terrible, incompetent and dangerous.
And this time they weren’t going to take it. Not from Ryan Lochte
. No, for Ryan Lochte, they’re going to put everything they have into proving it’s the lie they believe it is.
Late breaking story on the CBC, a nation whispered "we always knew that he'd go free"